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Internet access in Gabon restored after post-election coup

Internet access has been restored for the 2.3 million residents of Gabon following the army-led coup of the government on Wednesday morning.

Ahead of Saturday’s elections, the government of president Ali Bongo Ondimba shut off the internet and barred several foreign news outlets from covering the results.

Hours after Bongo was controversially declared the victor of the election on Tuesday evening, gunfire was heard in the capital of Libreville.

A group of army officers calling themselves the “Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions” eventually appeared on the state-run Gabon 24 television station to announce that Bongo and his family were being detained, the election results were nullified and the government was being suspended.

Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema, head of the Republican Guard, appeared to lead the mutiny, appearing in social media videos carried on the shoulders of soldiers hailing the coup. He told Le Monde that Bongo had disregarded the country’s constitution in his desire to serve a third term and that the administration of the election had been mishandled. Oligui is Bongo’s cousin, according to the Associated Press.

Almost immediately after the coup was announced on Tuesday, several monitors said internet access across the country had returned after five days.

NetBlocks, CloudFlare and the Internet Outage Detection and Analysis (IODA) project at Georgia Tech all reported the return of internet access.

NetBlocks director Alp Toker confirmed the restoration and noted that the “side that controls communication lines will have the edge in any power struggle so it's still a situation to watch.”

Gabon previously saw a similar internet shutdown during an attempted coup in 2019. Experts at NetBlocks noted that the situation in Gabon this week was peculiar because typically the parties conducting a coup seek to shut off internet access in an effort to limit coordination between the groups in power.

But internet shutdowns are often conducted by those in power fearful of opposition. Sudan’s ruling military junta shut off the internet last year ahead of massive protests organized to pressure the military into handing power back to civilian leaders.

A report from Access Now, a nonprofit tracking internet access globally, found that internet shutdowns were particularly popular during coups in 2021. In addition to Sudan, Myanmar and other militaries preemptively shut down internet access before removing civilian governments from power, hoping to stop push back.

Concerns had been raised since Saturday after Bongo preemptively shut off internet access, with many questioning the need for such a drastic action. His communications minister said they shut off the internet “in order to prevent the spread of calls for violence... and false information.”

Bongo — whose family has controlled the oil-rich Central African nation since 1967 — released a video from his home pleading for help from the governments of countries like France, which have spent years backing his iron-fisted rule.

Gabon is the seventh country in Africa to see its government overthrown in a coup since 2020 after Niger, Sudan, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso

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Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig

is a Breaking News Reporter at Recorded Future News. Jonathan has worked across the globe as a journalist since 2014. Before moving back to New York City, he worked for news outlets in South Africa, Jordan and Cambodia. He previously covered cybersecurity at ZDNet and TechRepublic.